FRANKFORT — U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler defended his 2009 vote for a controversial energy bill dubbed "cap and trade" on Tuesday but did not say whether he would vote for a similar proposal in the future.
Chandler's comments came during a joint appearance with Republican opponent Andy Barr before the Lexington Herald-Leader editorial board.
Barr pounced on the comment Wednesday, issuing a news release with the title: "Chandler cites cap and trade vote as a great achievement. What will he do for an encore?"
"I couldn't believe my ears," Barr said in the statement. "Representing the people of Kentucky means doing something for them, not to them."
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Barr and Chandler are facing each other in the race for Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District. Barr, a Lexington attorney, narrowly lost to Chandler in 2010.
Coal policies have been a dominant theme in this year's campaign, despite the fact that there is little coal available to mine in the 19-county district.
In 2009, Chandler voted for the cap-and-trade bill that involved a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal and other fossil fuels. The House passed the plan but the Senate removed it from an energy bill, effectively killing it. The coal industry has strongly opposed the measure.
While speaking to the editorial board, Chandler was asked what accomplishments he was proud of over the last two years. He said he was proud of constituent services he has provided in the district and "I think I have taken a number of tough votes."
Asked what tough votes he took in Congress, Chandler said, "I mean I took a stand on 'cap and trade,' for instance, and I have caught an enormous amount of grief for that, and I think in many respects it was the right vote and I don't think it was a vote against the coal industry, either.
"I think it was a vote that was a very important vote," he said.
Chandler added that he and President Barack Obama are wrongfully being blamed by the Barr campaign for destroying the coal industry.
Barr told the editorial board that people in the coal industry believe overzealous federal regulations backed by Chandler and Obama have hurt the industry.
However, many energy experts and business analysts say the coal industry's current slump can be attributed mostly to historically low prices for natural gas and unseasonably warm weather last winter, which left power plants with coal stockpiles.
Barr asked Chandler two questions during the editorial board meeting, including whether Chandler would vote for similar cap-and-trade legislation in the future. Chandler answered the other question but did not say how he might vote on any future cap-and-trade proposals.
"There's no point in discussing a hypothetical bill," Chandler campaign spokeswoman Meghan Groob said Wednesday in a statement. "Even though it never became a law, Congressman Chandler made what he felt was the best choice for Kentucky at the time, particularly after he fought to include $60 billion in funding for clean coal that would've created thousands of jobs in Kentucky."